Sustainable Business Series 2022: Building a road to Net Zero - lessons in sustainable construction

University College Birmingham

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce as part of the 2022 Sustainable Business Series.

The Sustainable Business Series seeks to help local firms understand the role that they play in progressing to net zero, as well as the opportunities and challenges that may arise from the net-zero transition. Through an expansive range of blogs, webinars, events and podcasts, the Sustainable Business Series offers useful information to businesses interested in adopting a sustainable business approach.

See the Sustainable Business Series webinar’s and events here.

By its nature, the construction industry is a huge user of natural resources, accounting for 36% of energy usage and 40% of CO2 emissions worldwide. As addressed at the COP26 climate change conference, we desperately need low carbon, sustainable buildings with highly ecological specifications to reduce our environmental impact. And the clock is ticking.   

Committed to leading the green revolution, the West Midlands is throwing everything it has at becoming a net zero carbon economy by 2041. But, with the best will in the world, we won’t reach this considering current efforts and actions.  

There is the Five Year Plan. A key target of this is to work with stakeholders to unlock investment to deliver energy efficient homes for up to 294,000 dwellings, with low carbon heating in 292,000, and up to £70m in land-based renewables and £483m on rooftop photovoltaics by 2026. It also wants to see low carbon heating system retrofits in all 73,400 commercial buildings by this deadline.  

However, even with significant investment, without a workforce that has modern sustainable construction skills, this cannot be achieved.  

Sustainable construction means using recyclable and renewable materials in building projects and minimising energy consumption and waste production. It does not end on completion of the building project. The building design itself should have a minimal impact on the environment over the structure's lifespan.   

This includes the use of energy-efficient roof hatches, solar panels, insulation to prevent heat loss and minimising energy consumption from the grid.   

With hundreds of thousands of new workers expected to be required in the next few years, employers, colleges and universities need to collaborate to provide the training that will enable the region to meet the crucial net zero transition.   


This academic year, we’ve welcomed our first cohort of sustainable construction students. They are training in everything from civil engineering and surveying to digital skills, with a number of sustainability-based modules from Pearson L3 Construction Extended Diploma, at the new STEM facility at our Camden House building in the Jewellery Quarter.  

A commitment to sustainable business and actionable strategies to move to net zero is fast becoming a key focus across all sectors, meaning graduates with key skills and understanding of sustainable practices are in high demand.  

We’re moving to address sustainability issues across our full curriculum to ensure graduates are ready to support businesses in tackling their sustainability action plans now and in the future. 

And with the mission in mind, what better way to breathe new life into the nearby former, University-owned James Cond Print Works than to turn it into a designated sustainable engineering and construction centre?   

The retrofit is now underway and the new training facilities will be completed by next summer ready for its first cohort of students, who will learn everything from modular building methods to manufacturing technologies and renewable energies.  

Within this, they will gain real understanding of practices such as using sustainable building practices that match modern construction projects such as steel erecting, curtain walling, brick slips and glue-lam beams. Students will also learn green technologies such as renewable energy systems including air and ground source heat pumps, solar and photovoltaic panels, wind turbine and biomass technologies, retrofit insulation methods including internal and external wall insulation and secondary glazing.

And the added bonus? Our current students will be helping to build the centre themselves, using the skills they are learning.  

It’s about collaborating to train people in the skills employers need and supporting the Mayor’s 100k jobs plan and, as a business, ensuring you are part of that collaboration. If we can make a real difference environmentally, even better.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” – The Lorax by Dr. Seuss